Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin jailed for more than 8 years over ‘fake information’

A court has sentenced prominent Kremlin critic Ilya Yashin to eight years and six months in prison in one of the biggest punishments yet for opposing Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Moscow’s Meshchansky district court found Yashin, a former local lawmaker, guilty of spreading “fake information” about the Russian army for airing BBC footage with first-hand testimonies of mass killing in Bucha.

A longtime activist close to jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny and assassinated politician Boris Nemtsov, Yashin, 39, was among the few activists who remained in Russia after Putin ordered the invasion in February.

“When the war began, I didn’t doubt for a second about what I must do. I must be in Russia, speak the truth loudly, and stop the bloodshed,” Yashin said in his final courtroom speech on Monday.

He said he believed it was better “to spend 10 years behind bars as an honest man than to burn silently in shame for the blood being shed by the government”.

Yashin is the most prominent person convicted under the law, passed in haste a week into the invasion, which carries jail terms of up to 15 years for calling it a “war” or contradicting Russian official statements.

The harsh sentences, comparable to terms usually handed out for murders, have helped quell anti-war activism after tens of thousands of people were detained for protesting in February and March.

At least 100 people have been prosecuted under the law since Putin signed it in March, according to human rights group Agora, including Moscow lawmaker Alexei Gorinov, who was sentenced to seven years in jail.

The court convicted Yashin for broadcasting a YouTube livestream about alleged murder and torture of civilians during the Russian army’s occupation of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv.

The prosecution said Yashin hewed to a “provocative” version of events spread by “unfriendly foreign media” because he cited the BBC. It claimed he was motivated by “political hatred” despite knowing about Russia’s “peace and security measures”.

A prominent activist since he was a student in 2000, Yashin led a wave of liberal democrats who won seats on local councils in Moscow in 2017, but stepped down last year after what he claimed was increasing pressure from Russian security forces.

Though effectively barred from mainstream politics, he remained influential thanks to his broadcasts on YouTube, where he has 1.4mn subscribers.

With most of his fellow activists in self-imposed exile, Yashin was one of the loudest voices drawing attention to reports of Russian atrocities in Bucha after the army withdrew from central Ukraine in April. Ukrainian authorities say 458 civilians died during the month of Russian occupation, while human rights groups have documented credible allegations of torture and rape.

Prosecutors in Yashin’s case, however, said the 50 executions of civilians documented by the UN should be disregarded because the international organisation was “quiet about Syria and Libya”, conflicts where Russia and the west back opposing forces.

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